The University of Tennessee is no stranger to state legislators’ meddling—from the condemnation of Sex Week to the backlash from the promotion of gender neutral pronouns on campus.
But enough is enough.
Last week, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion shared a notice titled "Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace" (the link was changed on Dec. 9, however the original text is below) with suggestions for hosting holiday parties not centered on religious traditions. Instead, it encouraged students and staff to be aware of the diversity on campus, including a wide range of religions that do not necessarily celebrate Christmas.
Accounts by state politicians and Fox News have incorrectly stated that this memo is a policy change at our “taxpayer-funded” public university, when it is in fact listed under “resources” on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion—making it simply a suggestion and guide for those who wish to host holiday parties without religious connotations.
Senate Education Committee chairperson Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairperson Mike Bell (R-Riceville) have been outspoken in their criticism of the post, and have called for Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s resignation.
“We have lost confidence in Chancellor Cheek’s ability to lead the state’s flagship university,” Senator Bell said in the statement for Cheek’s removal.
We at the Daily Beacon stand with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall and the Office of Diversity of Inclusion. We support the continuing of resources and incentives to further a supportive and inclusive campus community.
Our university, the Office of Diversity and our chancellor know what they are doing. They are on this campus Monday through Friday, interacting with students, faculty and staff, and they know what we want and need. State legislators are not.
Further, the university does not receive a majority of its funding from the state, thus not warranting this level of influence from legislators.
From 2011 to 2015, state funding of the UT system decreased about 20 percent. For the university’s 2014-2015 fiscal year, just 38.4 percent of the system budget came from the state. The rest of the university’s operation was funded through tuition and private donations.
Diversity programming also only receives .25 percent of the UT system’s total budget of $2.1 billion. When legislators argue that UT spends more on diversity than other state schools and more than the federal and state requirements, it is still a miniscule amount of the university’s budget. In reality, if UT truly values diversity, more funding should go towards these initiatives.
And, as of Monday state legislators began drafting a bill to cut diversity funding even further.
The Office for Diversity and Inclusion's list of suggestions was just a small step in becoming a more inclusive, more diverse campus—a step that required no time or money, contrary to the remarks that the post “wasted” public funds.
Legislators need to be focused on improving the lives of Tennesseans statewide, not nitpicking over our university’s attempts to make others feel as comfortable as possible in their education and work.
In the past, Chancellor Cheek has not fully supported faculty and students in their inclusive initiatives. He did not stand up for Sex Week, and he backed down in the fight for the education on gender neutral pronouns. Now, Cheek’s job is in jeopardy because he is finally trying to stand up for his students. In a UT press release Thursday, Cheek said he is “disappointed that our efforts to be inclusive have been totally misconstrued.”
We at the Daily Beacon encourage Chancellor Cheek to continue fighting and to not back down. Do not take the resources down, do not apologize, do not cut diversity funding and do not put Vice Chancellor Hall’s job in jeopardy.
The views expressed in Daily Beacon editorials reflect the majority of opinion of the Beacon's editorial board and may be supposed to represent the opinion of The Daily Beacon at the time of publication. They are not necessarily representative of any individual member.
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Office for Diversity and Inclusion
(original website post)
Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace
The university does not have an official policy regarding religious and cultural décor and celebration in the workplace. However, we are fully committed to a diverse, welcoming, and inclusive environment.
In addition to consulting our cultural and religious holidays calendar when selecting a date for your event, we encourage you to implement the following best practices for inclusive holiday celebrations.
- Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.
- Consider having a New Year’s party and include décor and food from multiple religions and cultures. Use it as an opportunity to reinvigorate individuals for the new year’s goals and priorities.
- Supervisors and managers should not endorse, or be perceived as endorsing, religion generally or a specific religion.
- If an individual chooses not to participate in a holiday party or celebration, do not pressure the person to participate. Participation should be voluntary.
- If a potluck-style party or celebration is planned, encourage employees to bring food items that reflect their personal religions, cultures, and celebrations. Use this as an opportunity for individuals to share what they brought and why it is meaningful to them.
- If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.
- Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes–for example, “Dreidel” or “Secret Santa.” If you want to exchange gifts, then refer to it in a general way, such as a practical joke gift exchange or secret gift exchange.
- Décor selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture. Identify specific dates when décor can be put up and when it must come down.
- Refreshment selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture.
Most importantly, celebrate your religious and cultural holidays in ways that are respectful and inclusive of our students, your colleagues, and our university.